David Mamet: Bambie vs. Goliath

I recently read David Mamet’s

Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business

And while it was an interesting read, I ended up re-reading again to find the real gems about writing and filmmaking.  Here are my notes on the book, mostly a list of quotes.


Standard Dramatic Strucutre:

Once upon a time
Then one day
And just when everything was going so well
When just at the last minute
They lived happily ever after
(or sadder but wiser in a drama)
(or realizing the essence of the human condition, they put thier eyes out and wander around a blind beggar in a tragedy)

Jack and the Beanstalk is a perfect example.

Make the audiance wonder, then answer in a way both surprising and inevitable

You get to make a movie 3 times- 1 when you write it, 2 when you shoot it, 3 when you edit

The slate piece: shoot the moment before “action” is called, it often has moments of real emotion.

Drama structure: the creation and deferment of hope
Reversals, surprises and conclusion of the hero’s quest

Stay with the money- give the best lines to the hero

Throw out the first 10 minutes, it’s usually all exposition

If you think perhaps you should cut, then cut.

Start with a scaple, end with an axe

If you laughed at dalies, you won’t laugh at the picture.  Same with tears.
-because it stops the show

Less is better- the timing of a gag is the essence of a gag

Give them tahiti in the winter, and alaska in the summer
-like politicians in wag the dog?

Get out on your biggest laugh / always leave em laughing / always leave them wanting mroe

If you cant figure what a scene is about, it’s unnessecary

Always shoot an entrance and an exit

After a closeup, have the actor look up, left, and right.  Just in case.

The engine of a love story is what keeps them apart, not what keeps them together.

Shoot the pretty girl closeup first.  Don’t save it for the end when she is tired.

Most american films lack irony.  Aside from Kubrick, Cy Endfield and Jules Dassin.  Eg: The Killing, Dr. Strangelove, Zulu, Night and the City, Rafifi

Brit Gangster Films are more how-to videos, not misguided souls in a clean fight, but actually not very nice people.  eg: The Blue Lamp, Robbery, Peeping Tom, The Long Good Friday, Sexy Beast, Mona Lisa, The Krays, Lock Stock, etc.

No narration means more narrative.

“I love you” is a good ending to a speech.  It’s not nearly as strong if followed by “and one more thing”

The Lady Eve – example of a good plot
Act I / Premise: con woman tries to con rich guy
Complication: she falls in love w him
He finds out, calls off the wedding, says he knew and was just stringing her along
-what keeps them apart?  loathing, and her need for revenge

Act II She impersonates a countess and wins him again, and they marry

Act III She wants revence so she tells him of her past sexual encounters
He dumps her, and his family offers her money
Revenge was empty, she went too far
She returns to the ship as failed con artist, they fall in love for real

-No backstory or characterization required
-He comes in, we see where he’s going, and it’s more interesting than any back story could be

Audiance will undergo only the journey that the hero undergoes
Story should come to life by unique event, instead of an ongoing process
Begin with a theme or quest, and describe the progression in unconnected actions and images that will be revealed as unified at the end, which restores order.

Plot should be easy to summarize, easy to follow.

Film structure allows imagination to reign.

Like a campfire story- leave out the adjectives- they just distract the viewer from what is happening.

A scene is superflulous when it doesn’t advance the progression of the film.

Drama is a succession of scenes, each must end so the hero is thwarted in pursuit of his goal.  He is forced to go on to the next scene to get what he wants.

Questions the writer must answer:
Who wants what from whom?
What happens if they don’t get it?
Why now?

Things that have the power to dissuade writer from these questions:
scene is so interesting, meaningful, revelatory of character, deeply felt

Other books about drama:
Uses of Enchantment
Hero with 1000 Faces
Three Uses of the Knife

Classic “Perfect Films”
A Place in the Sun
Galaxy Quest


RepRap Mendel

Scott Tse and I have been slowly building a RepRap Mendel, which is a DIY open-source 3D printer.  It extrudes melted plastic to ‘print’ objects.  We started nearly a year ago, and progress has been very slow.  We’ve certainly learned a lot about surface mount soldering with a hotplate, and how to order millions of tiny electronic parts online.

The photo above is what it SHOULD look like when done.  So far we’ve built all the electronics, but have been having issues with the extruder controller board.  Once we get that figured out, we can start the physical build.

Heavy Lift Quad Copter

I started yet another audacious project this summer, a heavy-lift quad copter, which, when finished, will carry a video camera into the sky and capture amazing footage for my projects.  I started with a ‘recipe’ gleaned from hours of reading aplanding.com and rcgroups.com.  Thanks to AJ, DJ, MorenoNYC, Mark Dana, Tkeeg and countless others.

Here is a list of what went into this so far:
1x MK FlightCtrl   ME
1x MK Pressure Sensor (mpx4115)
1x DCDC regulator (for servos)
4x 1hoch4 BL V1.0 30A max (16 kHz)
Radio: JRX9503 TX
4x APC SF et SFP 14×4.7 props            (I think I got smaller props later)
4x 12″ Align 450 tail booms
Rusty’s Frame
iCharge 206b w/ cables and PSU
2x 2S5000mah 7.4v Thunderpower Lipos
4x AXI2820 motors

Currently I’m able to fly for about 10 minutes on a charge, which is quite a bit less than I imagined.  Some of this is certainly due to the foam landing gear that I cobbled together, which blocks a lot of wind.  I was hoping to get 20 minutes without a camera onboard.  I haven’t started on the camera mount yet, but hope to soon.

Shoulder Mount v1.1

Today I finished some upgrades to my first attempt at a shoulder mount.  This new version includes separate rail-mounted hand-grips (thanks to some mt biker who left his bar-ends in my basement). The grips can be adjusted on the rails, or turned on the rod they are attached to.  They are extremely light weight.

The mount sits on the shoulder, and is adjustable for length, but not height.  It attaches to the rail mount under the camera with a simple wing nut, and can be removed easily, though as you can see in the photos, you can leave it on while it’s on the tripod, and it works fine.  Nearly all parts of this mount are recycled.  The large square pieces of aluminum are cut-offs from my stalled steadicam project.  The tubes are from an old tripod.  The shoulder ‘pad’ is a piece of the old foot rest in my Eskimo Salto kayak may she R.I.P.

3A style topstage

Starting to think about the other parts of the steadicam, working on a 3A style top stage, here’s what I have so far.  I worked off some photos I found online, so the dimensions are a total guess.  I found a rack and pinion gearset on mcmaster carr, the rest should be pretty straighforward.  Going to glue the rack in the top plate, and add some screws to add friction to the sliding parts, as well as some hard stops to make sure the camera doesn’t fall off.

Changes changes

Did some thinking, and I’ve made several changes to the cam/ride mechanism which should help with the issues I’ve been having.

1) made the bottom of the lift assembly thicker so it will have less chance to twist on it’s bearings.  I may at some point change this further to grip the post tighter- right now it’s just a set screw, but it might need to be a clamp instead.

2) the ride mechanism gets new larger bearings and shafts- going from 1/4″ to 3/8″ should help with the twisting.  

3) I moved the lift adjust screw to the side so the pivot for the ride mech. can be closer to the post, meaning a shorter moment on the twisting action

4) see #2- did the same thing on the bone side of the ride mechanism.

5) changed the cam, now it’s a single piece with a 3/8″ post sticking out.  


Hopefully these changes will help.

Design + Development = wow, I respect engineers even more now.

I added a second cam and connecting rod to my arm yesterday.  It definitely solved the twisting problem.  In the long run, I’d rather just have a single cam, because adding the mechanism to adjust the offset from the cam will be twice as difficult with 2 cams.  For now, twin cams, fixed connecting rod length.

The most obvious problem right now is that as the cam switches from pushing UPwards on the connecting rod, to pushing DOWNwards on the connecting rod, the whole assembly clicks and jumps a bit.  

I’m also getting way too much friction in all the little rods and bearing surfaces, part from the design, and part from my lack of holding tight tolerances in the machining process.  This friction is so great that the arm is sluggish, and I doubt would do much stabilizing in use.



Prototypes are frustrating

I finally completed a prototype of my Steadicam G-series style arm.  Yippie!  

The bad news is that there are some pretty severe design flaws in my plans.  Not sure how the G-series arms cope with this issue- that the cam at the top is pushing only on one side of the top of the spring attachment mechanism… makes the whole thing torqued sideways, as you can see in the top view.  Going to try to add a matching cam and rod to the other side to compensate.  I’m starting to see how things get over-engineered.


Shock mount for boom pole

Shock Mount adaptor

So I finally made the first usefull thing with my new machining skills and tools.  My good friend Aaron sent me a boom pole that he got free for some reason, and finally got around to making an adjustable adaptor to mount my DIY shock-mount on the pole.  The shock mount is 4″ ABS pipe, cut off in the middle, and some elastic shock cord from an old pair of pants.  

The top of the boom pole has a 5/8″ threaded rod poking out of it, so I machined up some 1/2″ aluminum, added a thingy to adjust the angle of the shock mount, and voilla!  I actually made something usefull!  Probably not going to get it anodized, since it’s not exactly fine craftsmanship.  It works though.